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What portable generators, large or small, can’t do is offer the ease and safety of a dedicated standby generator.
“With a portable generator, if the power goes out, you have to be there to turn on the generator, run extension cords and have fuel available,” points out Olig. “Our standby generators automatically recognize a power loss and are ready to go 24/7, whether you are present or not.”
Standby generators should be installed by a licensed electrician. Installation includes the automatic transfer switch that patches the standby generator into the house’s or farm’s main electrical panels and prevents backfeeding—the flow of power to the grid. Both Generac and Kohler monitor power flow and claim automatic start-up within 10 seconds of a power loss.
Manual transfer switches can also be installed for use with portable generators, eliminating the need for multiple extension cords and making power delivery safer. Automatic and manual switches can be set up to deliver emergency power to selected circuits or the entire house.
Options to look for in a standby generator include power management that shuts down other circuits temporarily while starting larger loads, such as the air conditioner. Auto-testing is another important feature for standby generators. It periodically starts the motor and exercises the generator without shutting off the grid or producing power for the house.
Generator Quality Standards
Once the size and type—portable versus standby—have been identified, one more factor needs to be considered, warns Tydrich. “Utilities have to produce a certain standard of quality, but generators often don’t have the same standards,” she points out. “When considering a backup generator, look for low levels of voltage and frequency regulation as well as harmonic distortion. Harmonic distortion is especially critical for sensitive electronics such as computers and heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls.”
When all is said and done, the single most important thing about a backup power unit is neither the size nor the type, but getting one when you don’t need it, advises Spyrow.
“If you need a generator and you don’t have one, it’s too late,” he says. “Not only can you negotiate the best price when there is no immediate need, but like an insurance policy, it brings peace of mind.”
About the Author: Jim Ruen lives, writes and works with his gardens and tree farm in the Bluff Country of southeastern Minnesota. Find more tools for your garden and farm shed in his Shop Talk blog.
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